Academia has been attempting to define good leadership for centuries. In their book, Leaders & the Leadership Process, authors Pierce and Newstrom state “… widespread interest in leadership has spanned more than eight decades, with significant historical roots (in) … the works of many ancient Greek, Roman, Chinese, and Egyptian philosophers.” And yet, we still have no definitive explanations.
For me, a good leader is someone who… “knows how to lead an organization that can thrive until the transition of current leadership to the next generation of leaders.” As Winston Churchill taught us, the approach and skills of a leader in one environment can be toxic in another.
If you want to learn how to be a leader or run a business, the least painful, most effective approach is to work your way through a well-led company and observe. Learn the good, learn the bad. The “bad” lessons are the most valuable. They provide a front row seat to the damage a mistake can cause without being directly responsible.
Which leaves the question, “What should they teach you about how to run a business in business school?”
As noted above, the answer is elusive. Thankfully there are several valuable lessons that can be learned and applied based on need and relevance. CAUTION: Every attempt to identify the most important, critical, or top 10 “things” all leaders should know or master is a fool’s errand. I’ve exposed a few universal and extremely important skills below and ask my readers to add their insights and wisdom. (See the ‘Talk to Larry’ section below).
On Seeking Advice
A common cause of leadership stress is when they don’t have answers and fear they will be unmasked as incompetent. “People will wonder how I got this job!” they ask themselves. “I’m supposed to be the one with all the answers. How can I possibly ask for help without looking like an idiot?”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
According to David Ogilvy, who has routinely been labeled the founding father of modern advertising, ”If you ever find a man who is better than you–hire him.” He drove the point home using Russian dolls that fit inside one another and saying “If you always hire people who are smaller than you, we shall become a company of dwarfs. If, on the other hand, you always hire people who are bigger than you, we shall become a company of giants.”
The best leaders know what they know and know what they don’t know, and don’t try to pretend otherwise. A favorite quote of Samuel Clemmens (Mark Twain) drives this point home. “It ain’t what you don’t know that get’s you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”
Learn how to find people smarter than you, proudly ask for help, and watch others respect for you grow.
Delegation embodies aspects of power (sometimes in a subtle, surreptitious, or furtive manner) and should be approached with caution. The biggest risk with delegation is when responsibility is assigned without imbuing the delegate with enough authority to succeed.
For example, if you’re assigned responsibility for data backup and security, you must have access to all financial and personnel data. Without access, you’ll be unable to validate the integrity of your backups or restore data when needed.
As the leader, how are you supposed to balance access and security to the most sensitive data your company holds? I have a YouTube video that will help with delegation.
On marketing and sales departments
There are basically two types of people–natural salespeople and those who aren’t. If you’re not a natural, don’t fight nature. There are lots of outstanding sales and marketing people in the world. Find one, hire them, and pay them appropriately.
Other common areas of limited leadership expertise are: understanding how to properly incentivize employees; implementing change; hiring staff; contracting with lawyers/law firms, financial experts, human resources specialists and other professional service providers; dealing with conflict, unethical or illegal behaviors; and leveraging industry associations. I’ll save comments on these for later.
My Best Clients
The best clients I have, and the ones who get the greatest value from my services, are the ones who know their strengths and weaknesses. They hire me to help them strengthen their weaknesses and develop talented staff with great aptitude and little experience. Being part of my clients’ journeys are how we both grow and learn.
Exploring your potential weaknesses or the areas you should be growing your knowledge and skill with an experienced guide like myself has proven valuable to my clients for decades. Of all the options you can pursue, I can’t tell you what’s right. I can tell you what works and help you get there.
Do you want to fill your gaps and strengthen your organization? If you want to talk about how together, we can make your company more successful and resilient, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 916-798-0600.
For more on the Business Managers Reality Index, or to schedule an mBMRI Index survey for your company, email email@example.com.